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Modern India

The Marathas: Gaekwads of Baroda

by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha, 4 April 2011

Modern Baroda is a city in the Indian state of Gujarat. However, it was once the fiefdom-turned-kingdom of its ruling Gaekwad family.

The Gaekwad family had humble origins, coming from a village in the Pune district of Maharashtra. They belonged to the Maratha caste.

The origin of their name has a story behind it. It is said that one of their early ancestors (as per certain sources, this was Nandaji Rao, the fort keeper at Bhor, Pavana Maval, near Pune) saw some cows (gai), whom Hindus consider holy, being led by a Muslim butcher to his abattoir. Nandaji opened the small gate (kawad) of his fort to let them in, thereby saving their lives. That's how he adopted the name Gaekwad ('gai-kawad'), ie. the one who opened the gate to save the holy cow.

Nandaji's son was Keroji. Keroji had four sons, named Damaji, Jhingoji, Gujoji, Harjirao. Damaji took up service under Sardar Khanderao Dabhade, who was in charge of the Maratha campaign in Gujarat, and distinguished himself at the Battle of Balapur. Damaji had no children of his own so he adopted one of his nephews, Pilaji (the son of Jhingojirao Kerojirao Gaekwad) and also obtained for him a position under Sarsenapati Sardar Khanderao Dabhade.


List of kings

Pilaji Rao Gaekwad (ruled 1721-1732) Pilaji proved to be a good horse master and the Sarsenapati's horses were entrusted to him for their upkeep. Pleased with his performance, Sardar Dabhade promoted Pilaji to command his cavalry squadron at Nawapur and later gave him charge of Fort Songad near Surat. (Khanderao's other deputies were Kanthaji Bande and Pawar).

Pilaji used his newfound power to dislodge Rustam Khan, the rival of Hamid Khan (deputy to the Mughal minister Nizam ul Mulk), who was stationed in Gujarat. In return, Hamid Khan allowed Pilaji to retain the chauth of eastern Gujarat (while Kanthaji Bande was given rights for western Gujarat).

Meanwhile, Delhi dispatched another general, Sarbuland Khan, to take charge of Gujarat from Hamid Khan. The latter obviously protested, leading to friction between the two. Therefore to subdue Hamid Khan, Sarbuland enticed the Marathas with more grants. Hamid Khan found himself isolated and had to flee to the Deccan. But Sarbuland Khan soon realised that the Marathas were not a contented lot. They kept eating into his revenues and marauding the countryside. As a result he sought the services of Peshwa Bajirao I to keep Pilaji Rao and Kanthaji in check. Bajirao sent over his brother, Chimaji Appa, in return for the chauth and sardeshmukhi rights of Gujarat.

Meanwhile, the Nizam ul Mulk (who was also the peshwa's arch foe) and Hamid Khan, both of whom had been sidelined in Gujarat, encouraged Sardar Trimbarao Dabhade, son of Khanderao Dabhade, against the peshwa. The Dabhades also resented the peshwa's growing influence in Gujarat which they considered to be the birthplace of their own power. This led to a confrontation between Dabhade's forces and the peshwa's forces. Pilaji Gaekwad and his sons (Sayaji and Damaji Gaekwad) fought alongside Trimbakrao Dabhade, but to no avail as Trimbakrao Dabhade was killed in battle (at Dabhoi in 1731), as was Jawaji Dabhade, Maloji Pawar and one of Pilaji's sons, Sayaji Rao (Bhawanrao) Gaekwad.

Pilaji himself was wounded and could no longer offer any effective resistance. He resigned himself to his fate but did not go out quietly. Instead, he died the next year fighting a Mughal sardar at Dakore who went by the name of Abhay Singh.

Pilaji had eight sons. His second son Damaji Rao Gaekwad became his successor.


Damaji Gaekwad (1732-1768) succeeded his father Pilaji. In 1734, he routed the Mughal army from Baroda city, which thereafter was to be the centre of power for the Gaekwads.

Meanwhile, the friction between the Dabhade (Gaekwad) family and the family of the peshwa carried over to the next generation, when Rani Tarabai used the Dabhades and Gaekwads against the next peshwa, Barajas Bajirao (the son of Bajirao I). But this time as well the peshwas emerged victorious and forced a treaty on Damaji Gaekwad in 1752, whereby he agreed to abandon the cause of the Dabhades and Rani Tarabai and fight alongside the peshwas in the future.

In return, the peshwa granted several financial interests to the Gaekwad family and the Gaekwads superseded the Dabhades as the highest authority in Gujarat after the Chatrapati (Maratha kings) and the peshwas themselves. The peshwa thereafter conferred the title of Sena Khas Khel on Sardar Damaji Rao Gaekwad.

Damajirao died at Patan in 1768, leaving behind six sons and a daughter.


Sayajirao I Gaekwad (1768-1778) was the son and successor of Damajirao.


Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad (1778-1789) was the brother and successor of Sayajirao. He died from a fall from his palace. He had earlier entered into a treaty with the British East India company (in 1780). The British declared the Gaekwads to be independent maharajas of the state of Baroda.


Manajirao Gaekwad (1789-1793) brother and successor of Fatehsinghrao.


Govindrao Gaekwad (1793-1800) brother (eldest son of Damajirao) and successor of Manajirao.


Anandrao Gaekwad (1800-1819) son and successor of Govindrao. He signed a convention at Cambay whereby a British subsidiary force was established.


Sayajirao II Gaekwad (1819-1847) half-brother and successor of Anandrao.


Ganpatrao Gaekwad (1847-1856) son and successor of Sayajirao II.


Sir Khanderao Gaekwad (1856-1870) brother and successor of Ganpatrao.


Malharrao Gaekwad (1870-1875) brother and successor of Khanderao. earlier he was arrested for trying to usurp his brother's throne by conspiring to assassinate him, but as Khanderao had no male issue, Malharrao was made king. However, he was deposed in 1875 thanks to his wild and extravagant ways and exiled to Madras, where he died in 1882.


Sir Sayajirao III Gaekwad (1875-1939) also known as Gopalrao, was a relative of and successor to Malharrao, as Malharrao's son, Jaysinghrao, was not considered to be legitimate by the British.

Sayajirao was the son of Kashirao Bhikajirao Gaekwad. He was trained under the able guidance of Sir T Madhava Rao and F A H Eliot.

Being a minor on accession, he ruled under a regency council until 1881. Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III is heralded a great visionary, social reformer, educationist and an excellent administrator. He converted Baroda into a model state. Sayajirao ushered in industrialisation to support the traditional agriculture of the state.

He contributed greatly towards the establishment of the textile industry and overall commerce in the Baroda kingdom. He built several institutions such as the Bank of Baroda, the City Library, Baroda University, and more.

He also established the railway, the water supply works, parks, roads, canals, colleges, hospitals and much more in his kingdom.

He was also the first to establish compulsory and free primary education in the country. He propagated equality amongst the masses and scorned the caste norms prevalent in those times.

He was also a patron to people like Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, the champion of equality rights for the socially under privileged sections and later the architect of the Indian constitution, Sri Aurobind Ghose the great philosopher and thinker, and Dadabhai Nowroji (who started as his dewan), and went on to become the first Asian member of the British House of Commons.

He patronised the arts, music, dance, poetry and literature and set up special schools and sponsorships for these. One of his beneficiaries was the celebrated painter, Raja Ravi Varma.

He also supported scientific causes including Dr Talpade's unmanned aircraft of 1895.

Sir Sayajirao is also known for his famous jewellery collection which included the Star of the South, the Akbar Shah and the Princess Eugene diamonds.

Sir Sayajirao Gaekwad III thereby proved to be Baroda's most popular ruler.


Sir Pratapsinh Gaekwad (1939-1951) was the grandson of and successor to Sir Sayajirao III. He succeeded his grandfather directly as his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Fatehsinha Gaekwad had died in 1919. However, Pratapsinha was deposed (after his controversial remarriage to Maharani Sita Devi and the issues of impropriety which cropped up subsequently) by the British in favour of his son Fatehsingh. Pratapsinh resigned his position to enter exile in England.

In 1947 Baroda joined the Dominion of India and became a part of Bombay state before being named as a city in the newly created state of Gujarat in 1960.


Lt Col Fatehsinghrao Gaekwad (1951-1988) was the son and successor to Pratapsinh. He was also a parliamentarian and a first class cricketer. He died in 1988 at Bombay Breach Candy Hospital.


Ranjitsinh Gaekwad (1988-Present) is brother and successor of Fatehsinh and the current head of the royal house of Baroda. He was also a parliamentarian and is a well known painter. His son, Yuvraj Samarjitsingh, is the titular heir to the throne of Baroda.


Main Sources

Buyers, Christopher - The Royal Ark website

Gordon, Stewart - New Cambridge History of India: The Marathas, 1600-1818, Cambridge University Press.

Hunter, Sir William Wilson, et al - Imperial Gazetteer of India, Volume 12, 1908-1931, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1908

Jaswant, Lal Mehta - Advanced Study in the History of Modern India 1701-1813, New Dawn Press, New Delhi

Keene, H G - The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan

Kincaid, C A & Rao Bahadur D B Parasnis - A History of the Maratha People, Humphrey Milford Oxford University Press, London, 1918

Kulkarni - Maratha History, Diamond Publications

Markovits, Claude (ed) - A History of Modern India: 1480-1950, Anthem Press, London, 2008

Rathod, N G - The Great Maratha Mahadji Scindia, Sarup & Sons, Online Sources

Soszynski, Henry - The Indian Princely States website



Text copyright © Abhijit Rajadhyaksha. An original feature for the History Files.